County Executive Rob Astorino lambasted the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in a press conference Friday, saying the department was overreaching in enforcing aspects of the county’s affordable housing settlement.
"We have no alternative but to say enough is enough to HUD," Astorino said Friday.
Astorino is scheduled to meet with HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan in Washington, DC on July 29 to discuss the affordable housing mandate. He held a press conference in White Plains to publicly ask the housing secretary to intervene "in ending the impasse created by his department's 'unprecedented bureaucratic overreaching' and 'unwarranted trampling of local zoning rights'."
"The bottom line is that HUD is asking us to spend money we don't have, pick fights with our own municipalities, do things we have no power to do and in fact may violate the New York State Constitution, local zoning and a host of environmental laws," he said.
There is a decided difference of opinion between HUD officials and the County Executive’s office about progress in enforcing which was reached in 2009 after an anti-discrimination group sued the county for taking federal housing funds without allegedly doing enough to further fair and affordable housing. In accordance with the settlement, the county will have to build 750 affordable housing units in 31 Westchester communities in the next seven years. HUD is tasked with ensuring the county complies with enforcing the terms of the settlement.
Astorino said Westchester County has 164 affordable housing units approved for development this year and is ahead of the requirement to complete 100 units by the end of 2011. Another 154 units have financing in place, and 107 have building permits in place. There are 102 units currently in the pipeline for local approval, according to information provided by the County Executive's office.
Astorino said HUD is now also calling for half of the 750 units to have three bedrooms. He said this demand "would force the county to run out of money well before all 750 units could be built."
The units currently under development are mostly studio and one-bedroom sized units. Costs are running at approximately $68,800 per unit in county-funded subsidy. Three-bedroom units could cost $150,000 per unit in county subsidy. The subsidy also includes funds from other agencies and grant programs.
Instead of the $51.6 million dollars the county has allocated for the project, providing 375 units of three bedrooms and 375 of the currently configured units could cost the county $94.3 million.
Things came to a head between HUD and the county with a recent letter. For the fifth time, HUD rejected a required element of the plan called an analysis of impediment (AI), which requires the county to stipulate the causes of the housing inequity. According to Astorino, the problems are based on economic ability to pay, not a pattern of racial discrimination.
"They are asking Westchester County for more than anywhere else in the United States," he said.
In the nine-page letter from HUD officials dated May 13, the agency outlines its reasons for rejecting the analysis of impediment statement.
The May 13 letter says that after working with the county on its rejected July 2010 AI statement: "the Submission remains substantially incomplete and unacceptable to HUD."
According to HUD, the previous AI failed to specify how the county would carry out required mobility counseling, promote source-of-income legislation (referring to Section 8 vouchers, social security, supplemental security income, veteran's benefits and pensions) or increase the availability of affordable housing for families with children.
The letter also says that the county failed to explain or analyze its history of segregation and the impact that has had on its housing patterns. The letter also says the county has not planned a strategy to deal with “exclusionary zoning practices" or "consider[ed] the effects that the location of affordable housing will have on segregation patterns.”
The letter recommends that the county give municipalities three months to act upon restrictive zoning laws before using strong levers like withholding county funds or even litigation to force action.
In a passage that drew the ire of Astorino, the letter states: "The AI must address the County's obligation to affirmatively further fair housing beyond the four corners of the settlement...the County must include a description of its strategies to develop, support the development of, or preserve affordable housing in areas of the County that are not included in the Settlement and for housing units beyond those provided for in the settlement."
In a July 13 letter, Vincent Horn, HUD Director of Community Planning and Development, informed the county that its revised June 13, 2011 AI had failed to address the concerns of the May letter. Horn said: "Therefore, HUD is rejecting the County's certification..."
The agency also has halted $6 million in payments of a Community Development Block Grant in the last of its three-year funding cycle.
Astorino says the move jeopardizes the jobs of 18 people who are working to ensure the county complies with the housing settlement. He said HUD is now using the rejected document to change the terms of the agreement and extending its concern into matters of local zoning practice.
Astorino also bristled at what he called HUD demands that the county make findings of racial discrimination and segregation.
"Westchester is the fourth most diverse county in New York, behind Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx, tied with Manhattan," he said. "I don't think anyone would say Manhattan is not diverse."
"This is now an integration order," Astorino said. "We will not have a gun held to our heads to do things outside of our agreement."
According to a map provided by the County Executive's office, affordable housing units under development and review are located in the following areas:
- Larchmont (Pinebrook Commons- 46 units)
- Rye (Cottage Landings- 18 units)
- Ardsley (Water Wheel- 17 units)
- North Castle (Armonk Crossing- 10 units)
- Yorktown (Crompond Crossing- 26 units)
- Briarcliff Manor (445 N. State Road- 14 units)
- Fewer units are under development in Pelham (3), Pleasantville (3), and Briarcliff Manor
- Cortlandt (- 83 units)
- Yorktown (Freedom Gardens- 3 units)
- Bedford ( Wildwood Road- 10 units)
- New Castle (54 Hunts Lane- 36 units)
- Briarcliff Manor (191 Revolutionary Road- 9 units)
- Hastings (2 units, 4 ownership units with rental units)
Total Ownership units: 136
Total Rental units: 145
Mount Vernon, Yonkers, New Rochelle, Mamaroneck, Port Chester, White Plains, Greenburgh, Sleepy Hollow, Ossining, Elmsford, Peekskill and Mount Kisco are not included in the agreement.
Pelham Manor, Bronxville, Eastchester, Tuckahoe, Scarsdale, Harrison, Rye Brook, Dobbs Ferry, Irvington, Tarrytown, Mount Pleasant, Pound Ridge, Lewisboro, North Salem, Somers, Croton-on-Hudson, and Buchanan have no units under development at this time, according to information provided by the Westchester County Department of Planning.